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Significance of the Amarnath yatra

Significance of the Amarnath yatra

Author: Jagmohan
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: July 10, 2008
URL: http://www.asianage.com/presentation/leftnavigation/opinion/op-ed/significance-of-the-amarnath-yatra.aspx

The controversy surrounding the Amarnath yatra is unwarranted. It is more a product of pride and prejudice than of any substantial issue. The forest land which had been allotted to the Amarnath shrine board was for a specific purpose - providing basic amenities and temporary shelter to the yatris in pre-fabricated structures. I do not understand how this act could, as alleged in some quarters, change the demographic character of the state or undermine the environment on the yatra routes. On the other hand, it would have made the yatra more organised and environment-friendly. The waste would have been taken care of at the camp sites and better administrative machinery would be available to prevent landslides and protect water bodies. In any case, safety of the yatris is paramount.

Heavy rains and sudden hostility of nature are not unusual in this area. It may be recalled that 256 persons lost their lives in a snow storm during the yatra in 1996. Nor should it be forgotten that India is a party to all the UN decisions and declarations on natural disasters. Experience shows that the nations which are vigilant are able to mitigate losses, while those casual in their approach pay a heavy price. For example, the average Japanese disaster kills 63 people, while in Peru, a disaster of the same magnitude takes as many as 2,900 lives.

It is unfortunate that the controversy has diverted public attention from the cultural significance of the yatra. Of all the Indian pilgrimages, the pilgrimage to Amarnath is considered to be the most sacred.

Recalling Swami Vivekananda's experience, Sister Nivedita wrote: "Never had Swami felt such a spiritual exaltation. So saturated had he become with the presence of the great God that for days after he could speak of nothing else. Shiv was all in all; Shiv, the eternal one, the great monk, rapt in meditation, aloof from the world." Later on, Swami Vivekananda himself recounted: "I have never been to anything so beautiful, so inspiring."

Such is the impression that the Amarnath yatra leaves on the minds of the yatris. After travelling on foot or horse on one of the most enchanting and enthralling routes in the world, the yatris see the "ice-lingam" in all its shining glory and experience the impact of an invisible, yet all pervading, an incomprehensible, yet all-conveying, force of "what was, is and will be".

The yatris perceive Lord Shiv sitting calmly underneath an imperishable canopy provided by the "mount of immortality" and conveying the message of inseparability of the processes of creation and destruction; of every beginning having an end, and every end having a beginning.

The holy cave is accessible only during a short period of time every year, usually during the months of July and August. At that time, inside the cave, a pure white ice-lingam comes into being. Water trickles, somewhat mysteriously, in slow rhythm, from the top of the cave and freezes into ice. It first forms a solid base and then on it a lingam begins to rise, almost imperceptibly, and acquires full form on purnima. It is believed that on that day, Lord Shiv revealed the secrets of life to Parvati. It is also believed that while Lord Shiva was speaking to Parvati, a pair of pigeons overheard the talk. And this pair still comes to the cave at the time of the yatra as incarnation of Shiv and Parvati.

The present Kashmir Valley, according to Nilamata Purana, was once a huge lake known as Satidesa. It was surrounded by high mountains. To kill a demon, Jalodhbava, who was indestructible under water, Rishi Kashyap made a cut in the mountains and drained off all the water. The land that emerged came to be called Kashmir, after Rishi Kashyap.

At some spots saints and gods carved out their hermitages for meditation. In the course of time these spots acquired special sanctity and made Kashmir a great nursery of Hindu religion.

If the yatris take the traditional route, they proceed to Pahalgam from where a small road lead to Chandanwari, along thick and green woodlands of breathtaking beauty, with the playful stream of Lidder meandering and dancing in between. From Chandanwari, there begins the ascent to Pishu Ghati, reminding the yatris that the path to salvation involves struggle and stamina. A feeling of having been lifted to a heavenly spot dawns upon the yatris when they reach Sheshnag. After getting refreshed with the bath of ice-cold water of Sheshnag, the yatris take a steep climb to the most difficult spot, Mahagunna. Thereafter, a short descent begins to Poshpathan. From there, the yatris move to Panchtarni, a confluence of five mythical streams, and then to the cave. A sense of fulfilment seizes the yatris, and all fatigue is forgotten. Even with the temperature touching zero degree Celsius, the yatris are driven by their faith to take bath in the rivulet of Amravati.

The unique yatra satisfies the individual's urge to take his soul to soaring heights, to experience spiritual passions and see Mahadev in his greatest image and in his finest abode. But the significance of the yatra does not end at the personal level. It extends to the much larger issue of cultural unity and vision of India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Kathiawar to Kamrup.

When some people talk of Kashmir's relationship with the rest of India only in terms of Article 1 and Article 370 of the Constitution, I am surprised at their ignorance. They don't know that the relationship goes deeper. It is a relationship that has existed for thousands of years in the mind and soul of the people, a relationship that India's intellect and emotions, its life and literature, its philosophy and poetry, its common urges and aspirations, have given birth to. It is this relationship which inspired Subramania Bharati to perceive Kashmir as "a crown of Mother India, and Kanyakumari as a lotus at her feet", and also made him sing that "She has 30 crore faces, but her heart is one."

Jagmohan is a former governor of Jammu and Kashmir and a former Union minister

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